Mind Sight: Waiting for Michelle Wie
Michelle Wie exploded onto the golf scene at the age of 10, when she became the youngest player to qualify for a USGA amateur championship. At 13, Wie became the youngest player to win the Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship. That same year, she became the youngest player to make the cut in a LPGA event; the U.S. Women’s open (a major).
People were anticipating a spectacular golf career. As a psychologist, I noted that she seemed to be more than a person; she was a phenomenon, and I wondered how that was going to play out.
Already at 13 she was almost 6 feet tall and was hitting her drives over 300 yards. This prompted male golfer, Tom Lehman, to dub her, “The Big Wiesy,” after the nickname given to Ernie Els, “The Big Easy.” Both of them are known for their smooth swings.
When she was 16, she became a professional and signed endorsement deals with Nike and Sony for over $10 million a year, the largest deal any rookie women’s golfer had ever signed. By then she was the best known women’s golfer in the world, even though she had never won a PGA event. More and more people were anticipating her golf career.
Wie was not just a promising golf player, she was also a beauty. Her mother, Bo, had not only been a golfer herself, winning South Korea’s Women’s Amateur Championship in 1985, but also participated in the Miss Korea Pageant. Michelle inherited both her mother athleticism and her looks. But it is not just her beauty that makes people interested in Wie; it is how her beauty draws you in. She has that mouth that curls down at the edges, giving her a perennial pout. That pout, combined with the tall, thin, graceful body, the long black hair, the large, solemn eyes, and a somewhat petulant personality, gives her that Wie charisma.
She has long had the charisma and the golf talent. And she has long had the world at her doorstep, waiting for her to deliver on her tremendous promise. The world is still waiting. The LPGA is still waiting for her to be the next Tiger Woods of golf and help its down-sliding revenue. I am still waiting.
From a sports psychology perspective, I am interested in why we are all waiting for Michelle Wie. More specifically, I am interested in why she has not, at age 24, been able to deliver on the promise she showed at a young age. Indeed, since she turned pro seven years ago, she has won only two LPGA tournaments. Most of the time she has been in what some describe as a slump. Often, she has gotten into trouble.
At the 2007 Gin Tribute hosted by Annika Sorenstam, Wie withdrew in the first round when she was 14 stokes above par, citing a wrist injury. The withdrawal was controversial for several reasons. LPGA rule 88 states that an amateur who shoots an 88 must be banned from participation in LPGA events for one year. Also, her playing mates in that tournament said her father was advising her, which would constitute another violation against the rules. A few weeks later, Wie was practicing for the LPGA Championship, which caused Annika Sorenstam to utter, “I just feel there’s a little bit of lack of respect and class just to kind of leave a tournament like that and come out and practice here.”
This was one of several withdrawals.
Two years earlier, Wie had been disqualified from the LPGA Samsung World Championship when it was reported that she had illegally dropped a ball closer to the hole than its original lie, and she had subsequently incorrectly filled out her score card after the third round.
In the five tournaments she has played this year, she was 38th, 59th, 127th, 87th and 125th. The 87th-place was at the Kraft Nabisco U.S. Women’s Open. She has all but disappeared from the golf scene. Where has she gone?
Wie has always lived a life apart from other women on the LPGA Tour. When she was growing up, she was kept from normal school and social activities by her parents, who nudged her from the age of 4 to become a great golf player. Her father, Byung-wook Wie, a college professor in Korea, often served as her caddy and adviser, and her mother, Bo, was always on the sidelines monitoring the situation. An only child, Wie was always her parents’ focus.
Sometimes a child of the stage-parent syndrome (parents who live out their own dreams through their child) achieves the greatness her parents wanted. Sometimes, when the parents are overbearing, the child builds up resentment to being pushed, and ends up going in another direction. Perhaps Wie’s decision to go to Stanford University, splitting her times between college and golf, was a way for her to stand up to her parents.
Then again, Wie may just have wilted under the pressure that has been put on her by her parents, by the millions of dollars of endorsements sponsors have heaped on her, by fellow players, and by the golf world in general. If you are living out somebody’s dream, and not your own, the pressure you feel is even greater.
There comes a time in all people’s lives when they must choose who they are and what they want out of life. So far, Wie’s parents have chosen for her. Now she must choose. She may choose to be a college professor or to get married and have children. Or she may choose golf.
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